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Vivek Ramaswamy's "cold, cultural civil war"
His embrace of right-wing extremism is transparently phony. But it's working.
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Events are proceeding according to plan for Vivek Ramaswamy. He’s using a destined-to-fail run for the presidency as a vehicle for becoming one of the most prominent right-wing extremists in the nation.
Ramaswamy is employing the same kind of cold calculation that Ivy league careerists like him have long used to climb corporate ladders and amass large fortunes. But his ultimate goal is to become the leader of a nascent fascist movement.
Ramaswamy is a proudly strategic person. He knows that his open embrace of conspiracism and increasingly direct appeals to racism are not formulas for “mainstream” political success. But Ramaswamy has made a different calculation than any of the other GOP presidential candidates who joined him on the debate stage last week.
The other non-Trump GOP candidates are struggling to come up with a way to beat Donald Trump without daring to challenge Trump. A near impossibility. Unsurprisingly, each of them is failing badly.
By contrast, Ramaswamy hardly offers the pretense of running against Trump. He unreservedly praised Trump during the debate, declaring him to be the greatest president of this century and excusing his alleged crimes (which he declared Trump should be pardoned for). Ramaswamy hardly bothers trying to convince the GOP’s Trump-devoted base that he would be a better choice to serve as the party’s 2024 nominee.
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Rather than actually pursuing a doomed effort to beat Trump, Ramaswamy is selling himself as a “hardcore” Trump follower who’s as devoted to the former president as any member of the MAGA base. By praising the movement’s current leader, Ramaswamy is plainly planning to become the inheritor of the extremists’ allegiance after Trump leaves the scene, the self-appointed heir apparent.
And just like his past successful bets in the capital markets, Ramaswamy’s political wager may well turn out to be an astute one.
Ramaswamy’s unlikely rise as a reactionary demagogue
In the increasingly likely scenario that Trump wins the GOP nomination, and then proceeds to lose the general election (and possibly trundle off to prison), Ramaswamy — who has taken to declaring that America is in the midst of a “cold, cultural civil war” — may well end up best positioned to become the next leader of the neo-Confederate side.
Ramaswamy’s rapid rise as a reactionary demagogue was anything but predictable. He’s the 38-year-old Ivy League educated child of Brahmin Indian immigrant parents (a doctor and a lawyer) and a practicing Hindu — making him an unlikely leader for a embryonic neo-fascist movement grounded on Christian nationalism, racism, and xenophobia. But Ramaswamy is a careful student of his target audience.
Ramaswamy’s first career was as a hotshot in business and finance. After working on Wall Street and graduating from Yale Law School — where he received a fellowship from a foundation established by George Soros’s brother — Ramaswamy made an early fortune as the CEO of a pharma company, Roivant. In 2021, after he had resigned as the company’s CEO (but while he remained its chairman), Roivant touted its founding of Roivant Social Ventures, a non-profit focused on “building DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] opportunities for future leaders in biopharma and biotech.”
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During his years in the business world, Ramaswamy developed a long history of disengagement from electoral politics; he didn’t bother to vote in the 2008, 2012, or 2016 presidential elections, and even skipped the 2022 GOP primary.
But Ramaswamy now says that, even as he was planning his exit from the equity- and diversity-infested corporate world, he was rapidly transforming into one of Trump’s “hardcore” supporters, and indeed was planning to become an outspoken combatant in the “cold cultural civil war” he’s since declared.
In 2021, Ramaswamy founded a money management firm, Strive, which was expressly focused on not pursuing social justice. Peter Thiel (a gay right-wing venture capitalist most recently known for his backing of a strictly straight MAGA dating service called The Right Stuff) and Ramaswamy’s law school classmate (and notorious xenophobe) JD Vance were among the backers.
Also during 2021, Ramaswamy announced his coming out as a right wing culture warrior with the publication of his first book, Woke, Inc., largely comprised of an attack on corporate DEI efforts, as well as a diatribe against the outrageous notion that corporations should play any role in endeavoring to create a “more diverse, environmentally-friendly world.” Ramaswamy declared the very idea of such corporate beneficence to be a “hoax” (a term that has since proven to be among his favorites).
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Ramaswamy rapidly published a couple of more books with equally arresting titles and claims. Next came Nation of Victims (2022), in which he claims that “identity politics” is destroying the nation; to illustrate the point, the book pictures a broken arm of the Statue of Liberty on the cover. The most recent Ramaswamy tome, published this year, is particularly conspiratorial. In Capitalist Punishment, Ramaswamy posits that a shadowy “Wall Street cartel” is forcing “racial equity audits” and similar evils upon the nation.
In February, Ramaswamy made the widely ignored announcement of his putative candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination. The announcement excited virtually nobody — until Ramaswamy began trumpeting his new identity as right wing demagogue.
Following the Trump 2016 playbook
While each of the other GOP candidates struggled with how to present themselves to GOP voters as Trump without the baggage, Ramaswamy sought to accumulate as much baggage as he could, as quickly as possible.
From the outset of his “candidacy,” Ramaswamy has made it his singular goal to appear as unhinged and extreme as he can be on as many hot button topics as possible. He’s been willing to do more than any of his opponents to say the quiet part out loud, including by openly appealing to bigotry.
At the same time, while DeSantis and other GOP also-rans have been flailing about in vain efforts to come up with a way to criticize Trump without alienating his base of GOP voters, Ramaswamy has enthusiastically embraced Trump and his most egregious conduct, appearing more like a surrogate for the former president than one of his opponents.
Ramaswamy’s unique approach was on full display during last week’s GOP presidential debate — to the incredulity of his opponents — and has been throughout all the press attention he’s received since what CNN described as Ramaswamy’s “standout” debate performance.
Presumably because he has little interest in, or expectation of, impressing GOP donors or party opinion leaders as a “credible” alternative to Trump, Ramaswamy has been free to suck up the attention of cable news stations, as well as “hardcore” Trump loving extremists, by mouthing the most outrageous, divisive, and transparently mendacious statements he can.
The GOP has a crowded field of habitual liars. But Ramaswamy is perhaps the current master of what Kate McKinnon’s SNL version of Laura Ingraham described as “feel facts, which aren’t technically true but just feel true.”
Ramaswamy’s favorite rhetorical tactic is to label a transparent falsehood as a “truth,” and to then declare that a corresponding fact is a “hoax.” For example, during the debate, as the other candidates bobbed and weaved when asked whether they accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that man-made climate change is real, Ramaswamy evinced no hesitation in denying the relevance of the facts and science entirely, and simply declared climate change to be a “hoax” — an evidence-free (and conspiratorial) assertion he got more press for repeating.
Ramaswamy’s failure to back up his purported “truths” with an iota of evidence is, for him, a feature and not a bug.
In an April CNN interview, Ramaswamy insisted to an incredulous Don Lemon that the Civil War was fought to give Black Americans the right to own guns and that the civil rights movement was led by the NRA — two bald-faced falsehoods that Ramaswamy, characteristically, claimed to be “facts.”
Ramaswamy was plainly encouraged by the results of his audaciously false history lesson. CNN management reportedly expressed “exasperat[ion]” that Lemon had failed to give Ramaswamy’s falsehoods a pass during what was supposed to be a feel-good morning cable program, and he was fired shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, Ramaswamy’s lies about the Civil War and the civil rights movement made him an instant hero of the large neo-Jesse Helms cohort within the GOP.
Fast forward several months, and Ramaswamy is now avidly seeking every possible effort to promote the most outrageously false and deliberately divisive claims regarding racism in America he can come up with. Nonetheless, media outlets are scrambling to schedule Ramaswamy for appearances, which are sure to generate fireworks.
For example, during one of two Sunday show appearances on August 27, this one on CNN, Ramaswamy embraced his prior claim that African American member of Congress Ayanna Pressley is the equivalent of a “modern Grand Wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan.
But he didn’t stop there. Ramaswamy went on to suggest that Black people who favor affirmative action bear blame for the recent mass murder of patrons at a store in Jacksonville by a white nationalist. Ramaswamy contended that diversity advocates have “throw[n] kerosene” on white racism by “tak[ing things] away” from whites “on the basis of their skin color,” then asserted that efforts to address racism are “fueling racism” in the country, including the mass murders of Black people by white nationalists.
Ramaswamy did not invent this inversionary claim that the victims of violence by bigots are responsible for their fate. It has long been favored by white nationalists in this country, and has an even more heinous history, dating back to Adolf Hitler’s declaration that the alleged crimes of the Jews merited retribution.
Just asking questions
Ramaswamy claims to be telling “hard truths.” But, of course, the opposite is true. By setting out to say outrageous things, he signals to hardcore right-wing extremists that he’s willing to embrace the lies they most favor, regardless of how repugnant other Americans may find them.
While Trump declared the neo-Nazis who participated in the Charlottesville riot to be “very fine people,” Ramaswamy is readily willing to go one step farther and to openly embrace their most racist and conspiratorial claims. Ramaswamy has been endorsing, of course without evidence, conspiratorial claims favored by Trump and Tucker Carlson that the mob of January 6 insurrectionists was laced with “federal agents.”
But Ramaswamy has taken those claims one step farther by signaling an affinity with so-called 9/11 truthers, who claim the World Trade Center was taken down by the federal (and/or Israeli) government, saying: “I think it is legitimate to say how many police, how many federal agents, were on the planes that hit the Twin Towers.” He was just asking questions, Ramaswamy explained; but — in the process — he offered “legitimacy” to the most repugnant of conspiratorial claims. Even Marjorie Taylor Greene long ago gave in to pressure to (at least publicly) distance herself from such paranoia as part of her effort to become a “legitimate” GOP leader. But Ramaswamy is rushing forward to embrace it.
As Ramaswamy told a conspiracist at a recent campaign appearance: “I think what we have a lot in this country are a lot of conspiracy realists. And so, I’m one of them.”
The fact that Ramaswamy is only more ostentatiously embracing racist and conspiratorial positions as his prominence is increasing confirms that this savvy careerist is playing a far different political game than DeSantis and Nikki Haley. Like any strategic player, Ramaswamy is planning beyond the current GOP moment, dominated as it is by Donald Trump, to what will be left behind after Trump loses another election for the Republican Party and (finally) exits the scene.
Ramaswamy clearly believes that the resentful masses that Trump managed to marshal to achieve one presidential campaign victory will be searching for a new leader who shares their nihilistic vision. And Ramaswamy will be there, ready and willing to be the chief executive of their movement.
That’s it for this week
We’ll be back with more Monday. Have a great weekend, and to our readers in the US, here’s to a wonderful Labor Day.
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